Have you ever hiked in the Steamboat Springs area? While it may seem far to drive to Steamboat, it’s just three hours from the Denver metro area. The Chamber of Commerce calls Gilpin Lake a “blue alpine lake of magnificent beauty.” I agree. Not only was the lake beautiful, so was the hike there.
The hike starts at the Slavonia Trailhead, about 29 miles from town (directions below). The dirt parking lot has a bathroom and sign boards. There’s one trail from the parking lot, but there are more trails along the path.
Just 0.2 miles from the parking lot, hikers come to their first trail split. A sign has an arrow pointing right for Gold Creek Lake (Trail No. 1150) and left for our destination, Gilpin Lake (Trail No. 1161).
Over the next 3 miles, hikers wind their way through a forest of aspens making this the perfect fall hike. When the trees open up, you’ll enjoy beautiful meadows with views of the peaks in the distance. Gilpin Lake sits at the top of this valley on the right side. As you hike, you may get your feet wet. The trail crosses over several streams. Sometimes there are rocks and logs to help you cross, sometimes there are not. As you can hike, you’ll likely hear a loud river nearby, don’t worry, there are closeup views of the cascades occasionally as you hike toward Gilpin Lake.
The trail has lots of ups and downs as it gains about 1,000 feet over that first three miles. Take it easy, because the trail is about to get a lot harder. There are three sets of closely set switchbacks to the lakeshore. Hikers gain about 850 feet over that final mile or so.
When you come over the ridge to the lake, it will be all be worth it. An open field leads right to the shoreline of Gilpin Lake. The lake sits in a bowl below treeline. The lake’s rocky shoreline is surrounded by trees and peaks. Find a spot in the open field for lunch or find a secluded spot on a rock in the trees.
During lunch, you’ll have a decision to make. Hike back 4.5 miles to the trailhead on the Gilpin Lake Trail or continue on the so-called Zirkel Circle loop trail to Gold Creek Lake and back to the trailhead. The loop hike is 11.2 miles. Even if you decide not to do the loop, consider hiking up the trail a short distance to get a better view of Gilpin Lake.
Details: 9 miles RT to the lake with an elevation gain of about 1,850 feet.
Directions: From U.S. 40 in Steamboat Springs, drive west through town to Elk River Road (County Road 129) and turn right. Follow CR 129 about 18 miles to Seedhouse Road (also known as NFSR 400/CR 64) and turn right. This is a dirt road that can be rough, but manageable for passenger cars. (Check with the Forest Service for the latest conditions.) Drive 11 miles to the end of the road at the Slavonia trailhead.
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